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Context & Background
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Biographical Context - Mary Shelley

  • Born in London in 1797 to radical philosopher, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  • Mother died 11 days after giving birth
  • In 1814 Mary met and fell in love with, Percy Shelley
  • She ran away with him to France and they were married in 1816 after Shelley's wife committed suicide
  • Percy was a prominent poet of the Romantic Movement
  • Mary was exposed to the same influences as her husband, and this Romanticism influenced her work
  • She wrote Frankenstein after Byron introduced a challenge to discern whom among the three writers --- Percy, Mary and Byron -- could write the best ghost story
  • How appropriate is it that the original idea for Frankenstein appeared to Shelley in a nightmare?
  • Frankenstein deals with loss, which Mary Shelley knew a great deal about
  • rowing up motherless, Mary also lost her sister to suicide, as well as losing three of her own children to miscarriage and early childhood deaths
  • In 1822 Percy Shelley drowned and Mary remained unmarried and died in London in 1851

General Overview

  • The Creature represents the dangers of science
  • Shelley uses the Creature to warn the Government against mistreating the masses
  • Creature, Luddites, French (1789) were treated badly – they rebelled
  • The Creature is a warning against the dangers of industrialisation – creating ‘monsters’ that cannot be controlled
  • Shelley uses the Creature’s education to criticise society

Historical Background

  • Written in 1816
  • First published anonymously in 1818

Scientific Background

Written at a time of rapid progress in the sciences:

  • Electricity
  • Anatomy
  • Scientists at the time were discussing the possibility of bringing the dead back to life

Key Themes

  • The desire for knowledge
  • The desire to understand and control nature
  • Pro-creation without a woman
  • Shelley is certainly warning of the dangers of pushing medical boundaries into realms where, in her opinion, they should not be pushed
  • Shelley provides a prediction of what would happen if humans held the secret of life. Danger of humans controlling life
  • Shelley provides a prediction of what would happen if knowledge is pursued recklessly and obsessively
  • Shelley is warning about the new science of the age

Social Background

  • 1789 – French Revolution
  • This showed what happens when the lower classes are treated badly by the state – they rebel
  • First stages of the Industrial Revolution (threaten the Romantic ideals of the importance of the individual and nature)
  • Written at a time of social unrest. (e.g. Luddites)
  • The promise of freedom of the French Revolution soon gave way to the misery and suffering of the Industrial Revolution (see London) by Blake
  • The novel is perhaps the strongest reminder from the Romantic period of the dangers of industrialization – creating monsters we cannot control and dabbling with nature
  • Frankenstein remains a relevant analysis of the dangers of science, a sensitive, complex exploration of the tension between developing the mind and knowing too much, creating and playing the Creator, exploring new ground and crossing into forbidden territory

Key Themes

  • Social responsibility
  • Injustice
  • Parenting
  • Isolation
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